Lost Lake and Last Chance Mountain

Last night I covered my office with maps. I stayed up late and stitched together my favorite pieces of the Mojave: the Imperial Dunes and the Devil’s Playground, Last Chance Mountain and the Confusion Range. At dawn, I stepped back to admire my handiwork and discovered I’d turned into my father. Shortly before he died, he wallpapered a small room in New Orleans with maps of the bayou, marking the places he liked to fish: Jesuit Bend. Port Sulphur. Lost Lake. 

For the first time in decades, I remembered the fat sheath of maps in my grandfather’s fishing boat, where I would marvel at the mythic language of Michigan’s lakes: Thunder Bay. Jackfish Channel. Knife River Harbor. I did not expect these maps of Death Valley and Joshua Tree to draw me into the past, to join me with my father and grandfather’s need to comprehend where they were. But it felt good to say hello to these memories, my ghosts. My grandfather. My father. And me, the end of the line. They had the water. I have the desert.

Set Fire to Flames – Sleep Maps

Telegraphs in Negative​/​Mouths Trapped in Static | Fat Cat, 2003 | Bandcamp


Here I am at last, living in the landscape I’ve craved since the first time I drove across the country. Twenty years ago, the desert appeared through my windshield, and it felt like driving into a cartoon: a yellow rectangle beneath a block of electric blue. To my Midwestern mind, accustomed to damp fields and pale skies, the Mojave was another planet. Although I was only twenty-five years old and not yet thinking about god or regret or reinvention, I heard a spiritual hum beneath the silence of the mountains. Tribes of dune buggies crawled across the dunes, and I thought I saw the future. I’m going to live here someday, I said. 

Instead, life led me through cities, snow, and swamp—New York, Helsinki, New Orleans—and it took my parents and delivered terrible scenes. A pandemic. Berserkers in the Capitol. Mass shootings like the weather report. Screens that scrambled my sense of space, time, and self. And all the while, I fantasized about the desert as a refuge where I might heal my battered brain and really get to work. 

I’m finally here, perched on the southwest edge of Vegas. But I’m older now and fighting to resist the exhaustion of the twenty-first century, or worse yet, resignation. My view of the desert has changed too. The future is still here, but I also see the past. I think about all those ancient ascetics who wandered across the sand in search of the sacred, and I wonder if I can do the same.

The Date Palms – Honey Devash

Honey Devash | Mexican Sumer, 2011 | More

A sun-soaked desert hymn that veers into the otherworldly at the six-minute mark.

Seven Years Ago, I Placed a Significant Bet

I live in Las Vegas, but I do not gamble. When I first visited the Strip twenty years ago, I tried my luck at blackjack. Took out $100 in mad money. Lost $85 immediately. Back then, they had $3 tables with human dealers rather than machines, and a kind woman from Monterey showed me how to split and double down. I kept winning and let it ride, telling myself it was just fifteen bucks. Night became day, but I had no concept of time until I realized I’d smoked an entire pack of cigarettes. I was up nearly $800.

Five years later, I drove through Vegas again. I’m great at blackjack, I thought. I should play. Vegas took it all back and then some. This city will get its money, no matter how long it takes.

So I do not gamble. Except for one longstanding wager.

Seven years ago, C. and I debated how the world would end. We’ll all be killed by a disease, she said. All those chemicals, long-haul flights, and antibiotics are going to add up to something bad. I thought it would be the singularity, mostly because I was reading a lot of sci-fi. Our conversation felt theoretical at the time, this debate over whether we’d perish while holding hands on a cot beneath the harsh lights of a stadium transformed into a quarantine zone, or if we’ll be running through the streets for our lives before getting laser-blasted by a renegade sex robot.

During the peak of the pandemic, there was a constant hum from C., faint but unmistakable. It said I told you so. But I’m gaining some serious ground this year. I don’t think the Rise of the ChatBots will destroy us right away. Torching the livelihoods of millions so a few billionaires can line their pockets is the next logical step. But you never know what the side effects of any new technology will be.

If someone told me fifteen years ago that Facebook and Twitter would transform America into a basketcase, I doubt I would have listened. I don’t know if anyone could connect the dots between sharing a picture of your lunch and attempting to hang the vice president. Social media seemed benign in its early years. AI feels sinister after two or three months.

So our wager continues, and it will be the biggest jackpot of all: one of us gets to look into the other’s eyes during our final moments and know we were right.

Religious Knives – Luck

Resin | No Fun, 2008 | Boomkat
Detail of Matt Johnson’s Sleeping Figure, I-10 Exit 110 to Railroad Ave

The Effects Are Deeper Than the Struggle to Remain Upright

The wind is fierce in the San Gorgonio Pass, the narrow strip between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains where there’s a field of 1,224 wind turbines. On Interstate 10, a gust knocked over a truck and its container blocked the westbound lanes. C. and I thought about the wind a lot as we toured Desert X, an exhibition of large-scale installations scattered around the margins of Palm Springs. We bowed our heads into 40-mile-per-hour gusts while we visited a chain-link maze and a headless, armless woman on a bucking horse.

Why does the wind leave us feeling so exhausted and harassed? I pondered this while we trudged into another howling gust to view an eerie ballet of mechanical bulls replaced by steel plates. C. said the wind tires us out because we use our muscles to brace against it. But I think the effects are more profound than struggling to remain upright, almost metaphysical, as if my life force is being blown away. C. stopped and looked at me, her hair whipping around her face. “So you think the wind is blowing away your ch’i?” Yes. It’s all over the Coachella Valley now.

No. 1225 Chainlink by Rana Begum
Searching for the Sky (While Maintaining Equilibrium) by Mario García Torres
Namak Nazar by Hylozoic/Desires

Just off 29 Palms Highway, a loudspeaker broadcasted a frantic chant followed by ritualistic drums. As we approached, a soothing voice unfurled a theory about a grain of salt that can heal our climate. It’s a fine rare thing to encounter a conspiracy aimed in a positive direction rather than the usual apocalyptic doom.

But the most compelling piece was an incidental moment rather than any piece of art, which is often the case. As we walked alongside the eastbound lanes of Interstate 10 to see a sculptural arrangement of shipping containers, we passed a billboard for Tattoo Mark’s Estate Sales. A 20-foot-tall man in a ball cap grimaced above the speeding traffic as if struggling to arrange his face to meet the chipper demands of advertising while maintaining the solemnity his trade requires.

Sleeping Figure by Matt Johnson

The tangled formation of shipping containers was a beautiful feat of scale and balance, although I wish it wasn’t arranged like a reclining person. The artist even drew a face. I’d rather see a mystery and imagine the kind of force that could produce such an uneasy arrangement. Perhaps a terrible wind. As I stood beneath the shadow of a cantilevered Chinese shipping container, I thought about the truck flipped over on the interstate. But mostly, I thought about Tattoo Mark moving through the homes of the dead.

A Scribble, An Exploded Rocket, and an Oyster Omelet

Woke up the other day and watched a billionaire’s rocket explode. Then C. and I ate breakfast at a Taiwanese deli on Rainbow Road: a bowl of soy milk, intensely fried bread, and an oyster omelet. We wandered into a hip zone of Vegas where a 1960s motel has been retrofitted into a breeding ground for nitro cold brew, artisanal photography, chalkboard mantras, and shade-grown candles. Every surface gleamed with a gently neutered Art Deco aesthetic that belongs to no geography or point of view beyond lifestyle pieces that use phrases like “digital nomad”—a style so frictionless and familiar it feels almost narcotic.

Bought a small new notebook to carry around the desert, and it’s an incredibly pleasant shade of green. Whenever I buy a new notebook, the first thing I do is make an ugly scrawl to prevent me from ever mistaking it for something precious. 

In Novelist as a Vocation, Haruki Murakami contemplates why his novels sold particularly well during times of sudden upheaval: Russia and Eastern Europe as communism collapsed, Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He writes:

In any age, when something major occurs and there’s a shift in social reality, there’s a related yearning for a shift in the reality of stories as well. Stories can exist as metaphors for reality, and people need to internalize new stories (and new systems of metaphor) in order to cope with an unfolding new reality. By successfully connecting these two systems, the system of actual society and the metaphoric systems . . . people are able to accept an uncertain reality and maintain their sanity. I get the sense that the reality in the stories I provide in my fiction just happens to function globally as a kind of cogwheel that makes that adjustment possible.

This is a sound case for good fiction when things get weird, particularly stories that shrug off the familiar and engage with the surreal. “Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all,” said André Breton a century ago. “Convulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed-explosive, magic-circumstantial or not at all.” Could this sensibility also insert itself into our cafes, motels, parking garages, and department stores?

Eternal Tapestry – The Weird Stone

A World Out of Time | Thrill Jockey, 2012 | Bandcamp

The Nightly News II

The Nightly News II is an evolution of The Nightly News, a participatory installation that invites visitors to delve into the scenes of anxiety, desire, and possibility that fill our heads each night. Anchored by an ever-expanding video, this project immerses visitors in the realm of the subconscious while a mysterious pair of hands sifts through handwritten fragments from the community—much like the act of recalling a dream often falls apart as we fumble for details just beyond the reach of language and thought. Only the essence remains. We run, we search, and we commune with our ghosts. We cannot speak, our teeth fall out, and we are strangers in a strange land.

Currently on view at the MSU Broad Art Museum through May 28, 2023, The Nightly News II is devoted to the scenes delivered by forces beyond our control. And as we encounter the dreams of others, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of our experiences and the strange beauty that lies beneath our waking minds.

Created with Candy Chang, and the soundtrack is from an album I’m putting together called Vegas Dust.

MSU Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan. Video installation and mixed media. Curated by Dalina Perdomo Alvarez. Organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in collaboration with Michigan State University’s International Studies and Programs. Special thanks to Anjam Chaudhary. Photos by Eat Pomegranate Photography.

Goddammit, I Just Graded a Fucking Robot

In this Terrible Year of 2023 when algorithms are chewing through the scenery, I thought I’d been decent at catching AI-generated vapor from my students. The incursions have been fewer than expected—and painfully obvious. Perhaps this is because I continually nudge my students to connect everything we read to their personal experiences. I want them to rant, revelate, and set the course material on fire if need be. Because the last thing anyone needs to write—or read—is another summary of the Bauhaus or ode to Constructivism. I take the work we do together seriously, aiming for conversation rather than evaluation until we find ourselves asking questions we cannot yet answer. 

But the other day I was sleepy and, after a long day of grading, I thought I was reading an especially uninspired essay about Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” and I responded with a few hundred words of feedback and questions. Then it hit me. With gritted teeth, I pasted the essay into a text box, and yep, three of the algorithms that check the other algorithms delivered a 92% result. 

And it was about the goddamned work of art in the goddamned age of mechanical reproduction, of all things. Perhaps I should just enjoy the beautiful irony here, but the image of myself spending my brief time on this planet thoughtfully reading and responding to the patterns of an algorithm fills me with a horror that edges toward the existential. And for some reason, I also feel a little dirty.

Ben Chatwin – Ghost in the Machine

The Hum | 2020 | Bandcamp

She Reminisced About the Cambrian Period

Twenty-six inches of rain fell in Fort Lauderdale yesterday, and they’re calling it a once-in-a-thousand-year flood. At this point, it feels like we’re all hundreds of thousands of years old. Meanwhile in the Mojave desert, we’re hoping to prevent a “dead pool,” a grim term for the moment Lake Meade drops so low the Hoover Dam can no longer function, which would knock out portions of the electrical grid and eliminate freshwater to a fair chunk of the southwest. The federal government is calling for water reductions, nineteen bills are pending in Nevada, and the water wars are coming.

C. and I wandered further into the desert last weekend. As we marveled at the tower of rock that loomed before us, she told me we were looking at the “Bonanza King Formation,” a lovely bit of cadence that sounds like a doomed band from the 1970s. Dead crustaceans create limestone, she said, and this part of the desert was unique because ancient slabs of limestone live on top of younger rocks due to collisions between the continental plates. We scrabbled among red and yellow boulders, and I happily listened while she reminisced about the Cambrian period when the Pacific coastline was somewhere in Utah.

As we picked our way along a ridge, I tried to imagine myself as an amateur geologist, someone for whom this static landscape was filled with slow-motion violence and flux. Could I ever become interested in rocks, or must it take catastrophic weather to get my attention? These days it might be more necessary than ever to develop an eye for the timeless.

Benoît Pioulard – Radial

Radial | 2016 | Bandcamp

What Happens Here Happens Everywhere

C.’s flight home from the Middle West was delayed due to some tornadoes that were tearing up Missouri, so I had time to kill at the Las Vegas airport, where it feels like being returned to a pleasant memory of 1987: corridors of neon, spaceship aluminum, slot machines, and burgundy carpet.

Eager tourists queued up to photograph themselves with the new Vegas slogan. A few years ago, Vegas decided to shake off the sleazy implications of What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. So they hired an advertising agency to drain the English language of any meaning until it became a cheap koan that belongs anywhere: What happens here, only happens here. I pondered this phrase until it became terrifyingly existential.

A tattered man settled into the bench next to me and surrounded himself with a fortress of plastic bags and the weather of the street. He launched into a litany of muttered theories about the government and a man named Bobby. I would have given him a dollar or two, but I never seem to have any cash these days. It might be worth carrying some for these moments. Because I’m goddamned lucky. A few tweaks in the timeline could have left me in his seat, haunted and alone. Hell, it could still happen. Two airport cops eyed the man for a while, then kept walking.

Time stretched into a crawl while my neighbor’s muttering downshifted into a snore. Eventually, the big screen said C.’s flight had landed, and I scanned the faces that passed by, each defined by the simple fact of not belonging to her. When I finally spotted her at the other end of the terminal, she gave a little wave, and time resumed again.

Legowelt – Metro Airport

The TEAC Life | 2011 | Bandcamp
Calico Hills

Letting Go of the Maps in My Head

We live in the far southwestern corner of Las Vegas, and it’s a strange nexus between the extremes of nature and civilization. Four miles to the west, there is no cell service, and the temperature begins to drop as the mountains rise. Six miles to the east, there’s, well, Vegas: manic neon, skyscraper-sized screens, and the fever dream of end-game capitalism buffed and polished to a synthetic sheen.

The first three months of 2023 have been the coldest in Las Vegas in over fifty years. But yesterday was pleasant, so C. and I headed into the mountains. You can tell a lot about a relationship by the way couples hike. A sunburnt man raced ahead, screaming at his partner to hurry up, while others ambled and murmured, lost in their private worlds. C. and I just tend to get lost. We’ll climb onto a boulder, scan for trail markers or cairns, and realize we’ve wandered into god only knows. Straying from the prescribed path makes me antsy, but the whole point of dealing with nature might be learning to let go of the little maps and well-worn paths in my head.

The desert silence baffles my Midwestern mind. No birds chirping, no insects buzzing, not even the faint hum that I associate with humidity. It feels like I’m on a movie set, a manufactured world, and sometimes my hand reaches for a boulder, expecting it to be made of papier-mâché. This fleeting confusion between the genuine and the artificial captures my sense of being alive these days.

Bremen – My Artificial Life

Bremen | Skrammel Records, 2012 | Bandcamp

Technology Might Have Peaked With Magnetic Tape

The winter gloom has receded from Vegas, leaving behind electric blue skies punctuated by a few Super Mario clouds. I’ve been working on touching my toes because I worry I’m getting creaky. Last week, I could barely reach my knees, but now I can almost brush my shins. I don’t want to become one of those grey men who struggle to put on their socks or sigh when they drop a pen, knowing it will be a significant event to retrieve it. I need to find a way to do the same with my brain because the future is coming fast and weird, and I’ll need a limber disposition to survive it.

“Soon we will find ourselves living inside the hallucinations of non-human intelligence,” said some big thinkers in The New York Times. It’s already made an incursion into my classroom. A student wrote, “I cannot describe the last advertisement to influence my behavior because I am a machine-learning model and I experience the world differently than human beings.” How do you respond to this type of thing? That night I stared at the ceiling, worrying about a world where writing becomes so cheap that reading is pointless and frightened by the havoc that will occur when these systems inevitably converge with the personal data harvested from us over the years. Technology might have peaked with magnetic tape: mix tapes and movies on VHS—perhaps that’s all we ever needed.

A delightful sense of slippage occurs when you can’t decide if something is brilliant or awful, which is how I felt the first time I heard Deux, a French synthwave duo who recorded a handful of tracks in the early 1980s before disappearing. In a dimension light years away from whatever their synthesizers are doing, Cati Tête and Gérard Pelletier mumble-sing to each other about how it might be time to dance, and they sound effortlessly cool, an effect enhanced by the photograph on the cover of Golden Dreams. The two of them look so young and hopeful and French, smoking in a way that makes me miss cigarettes terribly. There’s a tenderness to this snapshot: forty years have passed, and Pelletier passed away in 2013. Thanks to the indispensable Minimal Wave label, their music has earwormed into my day-to-day life. In addition to “Golden Dreams,” I highly recommend the android grind of “Lassitude,” the spiky bop of “Game and Performance,” and the terrifyingly catchy “Decadence”.

Deux – Golden Dreams

Golden Dreams | Minimal Wave, 1985/2022 | Bandcamp
C. moving among the boulders like a Vantablack Sasquatch

Suddenly We Found Ourselves Hiking

At what point does a walk become a hike? C. and I often ponder this when we find ourselves on a dirt path or crossing a parking lot. We’ve decided it requires a bit of an incline and enough time to demand a granola bar.

We have interesting discussions when we wander into nature. If dehydration became life-threatening, would you rather drink your own urine or someone else’s? The car was still in sight when this question came up. Or if starvation was on the table, would you rather eat your own finger or a stranger’s? This inspired some lively debate. On the one hand, we know where we’ve been and what we’re made of, but God only knows the ingredients of a stranger. Then again, consuming oneself has an ouroboros quality that feels demonic.

A few years ago, our friends dragged us on a hike through a New Hampshire forest, and they moved with terrifying urgency. We sat down at the first scenic viewpoint and let them continue crashing through the trees so they could exorcise their ghosts and satisfy whatever hunger was pushing them onwards.

But now that we’re in the desert, we want to engage with the scenery beyond the windshield. So we drove ten minutes to Red Rock Canyon and suddenly we found ourselves hiking. We leapt across creeks, shimmied up ledges, and at one point, we clung to the sheer face of an action-movie boulder over a canyon that plunged into the center of the earth. I can’t believe the government allows its citizens to risk their lives like this.

Vista of Vegas from the Calico Tanks

At first, I hated everything about it, this scrabbling across the rocks like an animal. Everyone else wore grippy shoes and backpacks stuffed with equipment I couldn’t even guess at, and as I scrambled after C., who was weirdly talented at hopping from rock to rock, I was convinced I was about to become a local news item. When we finally reached the summit, we were rewarded with a view of Vegas that reinforced my theory that this city is a mirage. Then I needed to sit down as a bout of vertigo took hold.

On the way back down, I moved more confidently. That sheer drop into the center of the earth was actually only four or five feet, and I felt surprisingly good and accomplished. Like I’d satisfied a hunger I never knew I had.

Horrid Red – You Climbed to Daylight

Banquet in Blue | Brave Mysteries, 2012 | Bandcamp

Church Attendance Is Lowest in Nevada

Heavy skies here in Vegas, and the wind has been ferocious. I had no idea there was so much weather in the desert. By now, I thought I’d be begging for a cloud.

“I can’t wait for summer,” I said, and the lady cutting my hair shushed me as if I were summoning a demon. She gave me a long talk about hydration while she snipped away. Not just plenty of water, she said, but also salads and cucumbers, and you should never go outside in daylight. By the time she finished, I was convinced a cup of coffee in July would send me to the emergency room.

“I love the summer,” said the man next to me. “Especially the nights.”
“Because it gets cooler?”
“Because it’s hot and dark.”

Among all U.S. states, church attendance is lowest in Nevada. But I think this is where I’ll really learn to pray. The other day C. and I went to a zen temple behind a strip mall for a beginner’s meditation session. We removed our shoes and stepped inside to find a dozen bald elderly people in red robes chanting in Burmese. We edged backward out of the room and quietly closed the door.

The wind is still howling, but the cold is finally gone. Forty-mile-per-hour gusts out of the southwest spill over the Spring Mountains after soaking California with another atmospheric river and a collapsed bank.

We searched for 10,000 acres of sand.

Saturday night in Death Valley was wild. Ninety-mile-per-hour curves and a thirty-degree temperature shift as C. and I dropped out of the Spring Mountains, hooked a left at the opera house, and motored toward Zabriskie Point, where the wind tore us to pieces. Fifty-mile-per-hour gusts blew the lifeforce from our bodies as we surveyed the dramatic rocks of Red Cathedral and teetered back to the car. 

We looped around for fifty miles, hunting for some famous sand dunes, but we couldn’t find the damned things. But Death Valley is a place where ten thousand acres of scenery can easily go missing. The area spans over three million acres, and it is a zone that can only be understood by extreme measurements: elevation, wind speed, precipitation, and temperature.

Maybe we’ll find the dunes next time, we said as we dropped down into Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Next time. Maybe even next weekend because it’s only eighty miles from our place. Later that night, a friend in New Orleans called while I waited in a Vegas parking lot for some Singapore mei fun.

“What’s in Death Valley?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “And everything.”

Tim Hecker – In Death Valley

Konoyo | Kranky, 2018 | Bandcamp
Somewhere in the Middle West

Summer of Muslimgauze

Organizing my mp3 library is my preferred form of procrastination. Instead of reading the news, I make sure each song is accurately labeled and every album has the appropriate artwork. It’s a soothing antidote to the buckshot lunacy of algorithms and feeds. The other day I noticed I have 2,062 songs by Muslimgauze. At first, I thought this was an error, but no, I’ve somehow collected 127 Muslimgauze albums over the past twenty years, and new records continue to appear each month, which is prolific for a man who died in 1999. 

I heard my first Muslimgauze record in 1998 while deejaying the midnight hour at WCBN in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While rooting through the new releases one night, I found an album called Uzi Mahmood with a grainy image of a man’s face on the sleeve. The camera caught him looking at something off to the left, and he looked haunted, maybe afraid. There was no other information, but the onslaught of hyper-saturated drums and clipped Arabic vocals permanently rearranged my sense of music. I imagined this record as Palestine’s answer to the faceless mythos of groups like Underground ResistanceDrexciya, and Basic Channel

Years passed before I learned that Muslimgauze was the moniker of a white guy named Bryn Jones, who lived in a Manchester suburb. After reading about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, he created the Muslimgauze alias in 1982 and devoted the remainder of his life to making albums with names like The Rape of Palestine, Vote Hezbollah, and United States of Islam—a move that feels like strip-mining another culture’s trauma for experimental music. The singer and producer Lafawndah offers a different point of view: “It would be superficial to say that Bryn’s art would be more legitimate if he’d spent time there—that perspective has turned contemporary art into a failed state of a different kind.” Perhaps both viewpoints can coexist. But my sense is that Bryn Jones’s frantic output points to something much heavier and weirder, which will forever remain beyond understanding.

Noting the “inconceivably deep sadness” that haunts Jones’s music, the critic Ian Penman finds it hard to believe this melancholy came from a place he never knew. “The sadness seems much deeper and further ingrained than that, approaching pathological—almost as if the terrible dispossessed ‘birthright’ of the Palestinians corresponded, secretly, to some personal scar or shadow in Jones’s own life.”

Although he was invited, Jones never visited Palestine. He hardly left his parents’ home. He was thirty-seven years old when he died. But two decades later, the records keep coming. 

At least 202 Muslimgauze releases are circulating today: that’s an album every month during his seventeen-year career. Some say he recorded a new album every week. Record labels could not keep up. Stop, they told him. We have too much. After Jones died, his parents told his label to take whatever they wanted. “I declined,” said Geert-Jan Hobijn, who runs Staalplaat. “Then they said they would put the rest in the dumpster, so I took as many masters as I could.”

I’ve been thinking about this image all summer: all that music stuffed into trash bags.

My first Muslimgauze record, twenty-four years later.

Jones remains a black box. Some say he had no interest in politics or religion. Others think he was a zealot. But only the music remains. And for such an elusive figure, his music is profoundly present. He was a talented drummer whose production skills edged toward the otherworldly. Oversaturated drums beat against your brain stem, hammering out rhythms that cast a freaky shadow across everyone else’s narrow turf of industrial, hip-hop, drone, techno, electro, and dub. The field recordings and radio broadcasts that pepper his songs are astounding when you check the date: 1987, 1991, 1995. Where was he finding this material before the internet?

“There are no lyrics because that would be preaching,” Jones said in a rare interview. “It’s music. It’s up to you to find out more. You can listen to only the music, or you can preoccupy yourself more with it.” But how do you reckon with such an overwhelming catalog? My music widget says I have over 291 hours of Muslimgauze in my library—nearly 13 solid days.

And so the artist’s obsession becomes the listener’s obsession. 

I think it’s a worthwhile journey. If you’re new to Muslimgauze, here’s a short playlist I’ve put together of my favorite tracks. Start with thirty seconds: “Jagannath, Jagannath Who?” from Jaab Ab Dullah. Then I’d suggest tracking down “Uzi Mahmood 7,” a constellation of razor-blade drums, crackle, and dub. These are the building blocks of the Muslimgauze universe. Next, give the moodier heat shimmer of Mullah Said and Sandtrafikar a shot. (Many artists have made careers out of attempting to reproduce these two records.) See also “Veil of Tear Gas” and “A Small Intricate Box Which Contains Old Blue Opium Marzipan.” Or consider Ryoji Ikeda’s Remix #6, a blitz of vision-blurring drums that reduces every other breakbeat to ashes. The remixes are where things get most interesting. Artists around the world continue to remix Muslimgauze, and, in the process, they are rewiring, reclaiming, and broadening his single-minded vision. 

Jones’s fanatical output haunts me because his reasons remain unintelligible. An album every week. I try to imagine the rhythm of his daily life. His relationship with his parents. Those trash bags. His devotion has produced a body of work that continues to regenerate beyond the grave. New Muslimgauze albums and remixes will probably keep surfacing long after we’re all dead, and it’s a beautiful thought: a feedback loop of remixes from every continent until there’s just one great big endless drum.

Many of the above quotes are from The Quietus, which published several musicians’ reflections on Jones’s work, and it’s the most substantial information I’ve encountered. I’m still trying to track down Ibrahim Khider’s book, Chasing the Shadow of Bryn Jones, which is part of a handsome box set I cannot afford. Here’s a trailer from Cultures of Resistance Films.

Muslimgauze – Every Grain of Palestinian Sand

Mullah Said | Staalplaat, 1998 | Bandcamp | More info